What is student feedback?
In its simplest form, student feedback is information given to a student regarding their performance or understanding. This can be captured or delivered in any number of forms, ranging from formal (i.e. standardized tests) to informal mechanisms (i.e. an impromptu chat after class); delivered via formative assessments throughout the academic term or via summative assessments at the end of a course; and provided by any number of individuals at or outside the school. Beyond this, teachers must be equipped and empowered to give both positive and negative feedback that ultimately does not discourage student effort, all the while tailoring their approach to diverse learners in the classroom.
The challenge for school leaders thus becomes one of design and intentionality: how do we create a learning environment that is positive and welcoming to different types of learners, leverage educational research to support effective teaching, and provide actionable feedback to students and teachers in such a manner that schools and stakeholders can do this on a regular basis – at scale? It all starts by putting student experience at the heart of this effort.
Why should I care about student feedback?
Teaching and student support staff play a pivotal role in creating a positive learning environment for students, and there is ample research evidence showing how effective teachers vastly improve student learning outcomes. According to a report by the Grattan Institute,
“Conservative estimates suggest that students with a highly effective teacher learn twice as much as students with a less effective teacher.”
What’s more, what is delivered and how it is communicated to students also has an impact on student outcomes. A recent meta-analysis of more than 400 articles of educational feedback research found that there is at least a medium effect of feedback on student learning; that it has higher impact on cognitive and motor skills outcomes (versus motivational and behavioral outcomes); and that the impact of such feedback is substantially influenced by the content of the feedback itself.
What teachers should know about giving students feedback
While it’s only one of many factors influencing a student’s experience, a teacher’s ability to provide feedback in a thoughtful, effective manner along with their commitment to making improvements along the way can truly make or break a classroom. Everyone can remember that one teacher who just knew how to reach every student, who created a culture of learning and encouraged constructive feedback between themselves and students. Or alternatively – the one teacher who really missed the mark.
For this reason, negative feedback delivered poorly can have a detrimental effect on an individual student’s learning or leave a classroom feeling defeated, it can discourage learning in the short-term and even damage self esteem for those on the receiving end. Collecting and sharing this type of data can be helpful in allowing a district or university to measure specific aspects of their educational model, providing answers around what is and isn’t working, and showing improvement over time.
Teachers have a unique opportunity to shape how teaching and learning takes place at the school – and the feedback they share with students can have an outsized positive or negative influence on a student’s experience.
Bridging the gap between student and teacher experience
Unfortunately, there are significant gaps between how students and administrators perceive some of these key indicators, in particular their respective levels of satisfaction with their academic, social, and overall experience along with whether they perceive that faculty, staff, and school leaders about students.
To put this in context, we conducted a large-scale study with 1,000 university students from across the U.S. to better understand student experience and how these perceptions differed between students and administrators. Of note, researchers found that the largest gaps between university students and administrators focused on essential drivers, including:
- Their level of satisfaction with social experiences (20-point difference)
- Agreeing that leaders care about students (17-point difference)
- Agreeing that staff care about students (12-point difference)
- Their level of satisfaction with their overall experience (12-point difference)
From this research, we identified four areas where education leaders can focus their attention to help bridge these gaps:
- Understand what matters to students
- Foster social experiences
- Prioritize mental health
- Create inclusive environments
Institutions wanting to address any of these four critical areas will require a cohesive experience management plan that connects the dots between siloed departments, seasonal data collection efforts, and slow-to-respond mechanisms, as well as provide teachers and students ample opportunities to provide feedback on what happens inside and outside the classroom.
On the professional development side, teachers and school leaders will need to combine existing teaching based practices with new skills, and clearly outline a process that brings together strategies and tools that enable them to provide effective feedback at scale.
To that effect, we have compiled some strategies outlining:
- How to give feedback to students
- How to take feedback from students
- How to enable students to share and receive feedback from their peers.
Strategies for delivering meaningful student feedback
To build a trusting relationship, institutions must:
- Build authentic dialogue with their students
- Invest in each student’s individual learning journey
This supports the need for personalization and reinforces the narrative that schools can no longer expect that students will consume “study plans” built for masses or one-size-fits-all feedback. It is not that students are self-centered, but more than ever they are self-aware of what matters to them.
One of the best ways for schools to improve the knowledge and teaching capabilities of staff is to implement a 360 degree feedback program, also known as a multi-rater or multi-source feedback assessment, which offers teachers the opportunity to give and receive actionable feedback towards improved student achievements and professional growth. Through this process, schools can create a culture where effective feedback flows between teachers and students, as well as amongst peers.
How to give feedback to students
Early research by Hattie and Timperley in “The Power of Feedback” states that effective feedback should at the very least answer three key questions: (1) “Where am I going?”; (2) “How am I going?”; and (3) “Where to next?”
Teachers should then frame this feedback so as to help students understand how well they performed the tasks and how well they understood the processes associated with the task or content, how students can focus on and develop a greater sense of confidence and self-awareness; and reinforcing this via positive evaluations about the student themselves. This allows teachers to go beyond traditional student ratings and instead focus student attention on how they can reach upper learning levels throughout their time at the school.
Tactically speaking, effective feedback from teachers to students should (1) be targeted, (2) communicate progress, (3) be timely, and (4) give students the opportunity to practice and implement the feedback received. These, combined with the three questions outlined above, provide a framework of reference where a student’s learning becomes an ongoing dialogue between student and teacher. This combined approach can provide students with a mechanism to not just be the recipient of but also the source of meaningful feedback to faculty, staff, and school leaders.
How to take feedback from students
So how can schools use this program on a wider scale? How can they embed it so that it becomes automatic and routine, rather than random and out of context? There is potential for the 360 degree feedback program to revitalize teams, including administrative or academic departments and individual programs. Faculty leaders can use 360 degree feedback to proactively assess how to improve student learning outcomes throughout the school year.
For example, many schools undertake projects concentrating on issues such as social justice, civics and civilization, and the responsible use of alcohol, all of which require regular review to remain effective. Using the 360 degree feedback program, feedback can be collected from all stakeholder groups:
At some schools, students set their own individual learning goals. At regular times throughout the year, each student sits with their teacher to discuss their progress, modify goals, or set new ones. The 360 degree process can enhance this environment by involving close peers of the student and parents, and ultimately improve teaching and learning at the school.
With the right use of technology, student feedback can be further elevated beyond traditionally scheduled touchpoints. Students are motivated to improve learning in their class by capturing helpful feedback aimed at the improvement of a particular course or process at the school. By streamlining this data collection, analysis, and reporting process, K-12 and university leaders can access more real-time data, improve course design in a more agile fashion, and implement teaching and learning changes that have proven to be successful across the institution.
Student feedback questions for students
Embedding a culture of 360 degree feedback takes time and requires trust. Guidelines for the process should focus on the length and frequency of student evaluations, as well as protocols for discussion after each observation.
Students need to consider reflection on a behavior or a lesson as normal practice. The use of reflection tools develops critical thinking which, in turn, promotes deeper learning. Students are the winners in an established 360 degree feedback culture. Not only do they gain skills that assist their future learning, but their feedback can make teachers and peers more effective and improve the quality of projects and units of work.
Providing feedback to a peer allows a student to reinforce their own knowledge of the course material, it allows them to see how a peer student’s work compares to their own, and help them identify a concrete example for them to improve and take on new directions. Giving feedback to one another can even be part of a school’s formative assessments.
Acting on student feedback to improve experiences
In its “10 Strategies for Engaging Learners with Qualtrics,” Minnesota State University, Mankato provides some great tactical suggestions for teachers and students on how to collect, analyze, and share feedback. Furthermore, this model can be applied to both a K-12 institution as well as a university, serving as a great example on how to structure such a program. Some of these are highlighted below:
- Conduct Student Evaluations – “Have your students complete group evaluations after any group project or assignment by completing a specially designed Qualtrics survey. Surveys can be anonymous, or participants can be identified in order to verify which group members are being evaluated. Results can be downloaded and correlated for overall performance across projects.”
- Create a Choose Your Own Adventure Story – “Using branching logic and the survey flow tool, create a choose-your-own-adventure story that walks students through the content. In an effective demonstration of personalized learning, students can see the consequences of their decisions as they make choices based on your instructional input. Display logic allows you to provide them feedback and route them back to question blocks to “rethink” their previous choices if they have been led astray.”
- Require Reflective Practice (Written feedback) – “Use a standing Qualtrics survey to require students to submit a journal entry about a given topic or class. This can be used for service-learning or practicum reflections, or any other type of log that needs to be kept throughout the course. Responses can be downloaded into a spreadsheet for easy organization.”
At the classroom level, institutions must continue to enable teachers to focus their attention on the academic and formative side of their profession, while minimizing the administrative burden that can come from providing feedback to students more frequently and/or collecting student feedback outside traditional data collection methods. Most teachers are familiar with 360 feedback programs, it’s the ability to conduct these at scale that offers the most flexibility and value to stakeholders at a school.
At the institutional level, schools have the distinct responsibility to commit the right level of organizational, technological, and human capital resources in order to provide a unified system that makes it easy to move beyond just collecting data from students and staff to creating a system that fosters continuous learning across both students and faculty.